Sam Wilkinson, Sammy Wilk, aka to his fans on social media, isn’t just an influencer. The musician, model, and comedian moved to LA from Omaha just recently, and has already shot a spokesmodel campaign, is set to drop an album in the next few months, and is skyrocketing to the top of the social media game with almost 1 million followers on Twitter and over 1.4 million on Instagram. It’s clear that Wilkinson and his best friends from Omaha and beyond are collaborating to change the face of celebrity in the digital era.
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IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR UNITE4GOOD – Skate Maloley, left, and Sam Wilkinson attend the announcement of… <+> The Balcony”s partnership with unite4good as Global Youth Ambassadors at their YouTube channel and “Fire” music video launch at the W Hollywood on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Dan Steinberg/Invision for unite4good/AP Images
I sat down with Wilkinson to talk to him about his rapid rise to fame, and speak to him about how businesses can best work with social media influencers to allow their brands to shine.
How did this fast journey to fame begin for you?
Well, I grew up with Jack Gilinsky and Jack Johnson, we started hanging in the 7th grade and became best friends. We were eating lunch and chilling by the pool one day — this was when Vine was first coming out — and they came up with the idea of Jack and Jack. They started making Vines through the Jack and Jack page (I had my own Vine at the time). Jack Johnson had around 300 followers, and I had 380, so it became this fun little game to try to get more and more. We started collaborating on ideas; I would videotape them or be in some of the Vines. Through us just being together as a trio I started growing my own fan base on Vine.
People consider me a Viner but I don’t really consider myself a Viner. I was just trying to help my buddies out. But I grew on Instagram and Twitter, and it just started happening. Once I got to 44K followers on Twitter, I got hit up by Bart Bordelon, who put together the group Magcon. There was an original nine guys, including Nash Grier, Cameron Dallas, Jack, you know, those guys. I was brought on to the last few shows of the Magcon tour, and that grew me even more. I just kept gaining numbers. That was the beginning, it just began happening.
How did it turn into a business?
It really turned into a business once I figured out the platform that I had. I knew we really had something when we had millions of followers, just likes on likes. Compared to other artists that I really looked up to who were getting ten re-tweets on a post, I was getting like 5,000. It was obvious that this was something to go with.
I was going to go to college; that was always my plan. I have three older siblings who all went to UNL in Nebraska, so I thought I was going to go there. But, the first day of college was coming up, and my parents and I never had the discussion about whether I was going or not, it just evolved naturally into me not going. They saw it happening.
Then I started getting emails about posting particular things for money. Brands started flowing in, and it was a huge eye opener to what we had under our belts, and what we could do with the platform that we had. Once I saw money coming in, I thought, “Wow, this could be a business; we could actually run with this and try to change some lives.”
Do you have a management team or do you still manage yourself?
I am still independent on both the music and the business side. I live with my sister, Emily Wilkinson, in L.A., and she does the day-to-day, making sure I go to meetings and keeping me in line. I also have an attorney, which I got a few months before I got out here. Jack and Jack were out here before me, and they told me how crazy it was in L.A., how everyone is trying to get behind you and get a piece of you. So, my parents and I had a few discussions and meetings with my attorney. Since my sister wasn’t in the entertainment industry, he was the only guy that I would listen to in regards to the best business moves to make. He introduced me to people and I learned and soaked everything in– I mean, it all happened so abruptly, it was crazy.
How do you work with brands? Do you reach out to them or do they reach out to you?
Mostly, they see my numbers on Twitter, Instagram, or even Snapchat — which is really blowing up right now — and they will ask for what they want, then I discuss it with my team. For instance, what do I have to do? What does it entail? Is it organic to my brand? Will my fans like it? Does it go together and it won’t clash?
A huge deal we’ve been doing lately is with Mudd, the clothing brand at Kohl’s. Me, Jack and Jack, Noah Cyrus, Stella Hudgens, and Alli Simpson are doing it. That was a cool campaign. Really organic; just photo shoot days where we’re relaxing and hanging out together, and they’re taking pictures of us. We thought it was a great idea as it was really organic, but also benefitted our careers by getting us into the modeling aspect of things. Mudd makes loose fitting, good vibe festival clothes, and their motto is “Peace, Love, Mudd,” which definitely fits me. I really try to give off love in my music and my life, so it definitely fit my brand. Plus I was with Jack and Jack, so all the Omaha fans loved it.
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What other brands have you worked with?
I’ve worked with SourPatch Kids – you know, everybody likes candy, candy is good, can’t turn that down. I just did a quick Instagram post, right around Valentine’s day. The caption was something silly like, “I don’t have anyone to be with for Valentine’s Day, but I have my Sour Patch Kids,” and took a funny picture. The fans enjoyed it and it made sense. I’ve worked with Cocowhite, a teeth whitener, who came to me. A lot of people like my smile, so it fits and was very smooth. I’ve worked with eVoy, those roller boards that everyone is riding on. I got a free board for just posting about it on my Snapchat and giving them a quick shout-out.
You really have to try to make it as organic as possible so that fans don’t get upset about you posting promo. You have to find different ways to integrate posting and promo, and have to be careful. For example, one of my producers works with JBL speakers. So I was like “Yo, I need some new speakers, can we make something happen?” They sent me some speakers, so I played some of my music from my new album on Snapchat, and showed the speakers. The fans probably didn’t even notice that it was a promo, it was so light.
Are there any brands or projects you would like to work with in the future?
I really want to work with any brands that work with my music, as that’s what I am focusing on. Speakers, or even clothing brands like Rag and Bones, who recently got in touch with me. Calvin Klein recently posted some stuff about me, so it would be awesome to work with them. I’m trying to legitimize myself in the world, transitioning from ‘social media guy’ to someone who is taken seriously making music as an artist. It’s slowly but surely happening, and I think after releasing this next project, I’ll really legitimize my brand. Obviously, I would love to work with big brands like Adidas. That would be amazing.
As far as working with record labels, I’m in touch with a lot of different record labels, but I’m not looking to sign with anyone in the future. I want to stay independent because I do have the fans behind me to push my music. A label isn’t really necessary.
Who are some of your favorite people to collaborate with, and who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Of course, I’m best friends with Jack and Jack, Skate, Nash Grier, and Hayes Grier, and all those guys — we all live within a three-mile radius so were always hanging out and filming stuff. Lele Pons is really cool, and so funny. We actually went to Hawaii together which was very fun. As far as music goes, I would love to collaborate with Iration, Rebelution, Sublime with Rome, Tribal Seeds, Matisyahu, Wiz Khalifa, and a whole lot more. My new album is influenced by reggae and hip hop so those groups would be amazing to collab with. I am loving this comedian Chris D’Elia right now, he’s hilarious. I went to his show the other night and got to talk to him afterwards. I was more stoked to see him than any other celebrity, he is just the funniest dude to me.
So, what are you doing now to help out other people, to “send the elevator back down,” so to speak?
I’m actually going to Africa, for what we call my #Secretmission. I can’t currently give any other information about why I’m going or where I’ll be, but I will have a huge announcement at the end of November.
On a local scale, I try to help out artists coming into the studio who really like what my buddies and I are doing. They ask us a ton of questions. My buddy, singer/rapper Ty Alexander comes out, stays on my couch, and really soaks in how the LA life works. We always vibe out in the studio; even making a few tracks at this point. But there’s little things that Ty has noticed about how social media works. For example, if you use the word, “You” in a tweet it gets more love and re-tweets because it’s a word that makes it seem like you’re talking directly to a fan. So we have long discussions, where Ty is really asking how we’re doing things and the reasons behind it. Also vice versa, because he is a really smart dude that helps me out all around lifestyle aspects of things out in LA. He’s just a really good guy. I try to help out; obviously I want people to get huge, so I try to help out people whenever they need help in their lives and careers.
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